I really appreciated Melissa’s fierce post on fashion earlier this week at Shakesville, wherein she pillories the industry for selling shame as much as clothes. She laments long-mothballed bridesmaid dresses and this recent shopping tribulation expedition:
We go to a plus-size store. Immediately upon entering, I feel overwhelmed and anxious. I hate shopping. I hate clothes. The entire process of shopping for clothes brings me perilously close to hating myself. So many of the clothes are cut in ways that don’t flatter my body, because they are designed to conceal it. I am reminded at every turn that I am meant to be ashamed of my fat body. We leave. We go to another plus-size store. Everything is too old for me. Iain says, “This is stuff for women twice your age.” He’s right. My anxiety increases. We leave. We go to another plus-size store. Everything is too young for me. Weirdly, it somehow still all feels the same—and I realize the three stores are all owned by the same company. …
I complain about the cuts of the clothes; I point out how the biggest sizes are the first gone; I grouse that the prints aren’t flattering to large bodies; I note the preponderance of empire waists and the lack of diversity in lengths and shapes of clothes, as if fat female bodies are all shaped the same, as if fat women shouldn’t even try to make their bodies look good. I’m trying to be analytical, to intellectualize what, precisely, about this experience is anxiety-provoking.
When we get to the car, despite my best efforts, I cry.
Melissa’s experiences are especially awful because of the extra shame reserved for fat women. But they illuminate more than just her personal struggles, because her quest for stylish, flattering “fat clothes” reveals the shopping experiences of women of many sizes – writ large. Despite having what you might call slender privilege, I too have cried in anger and shame. I’ve ranted about my frustration finding pants that fit. My latest foray into the pants department was fueled by a massive adrenaline/endorphin rush in the wake of a nasty medical test, and even so, I barely got past the first rack.
I just do not understand WTF anyone would need “tummy control” on size 2 or 4. And yet I saw just that at Target. Coldwater Creek, where I eventually found some stretchy, flattering jeans, markets the stretch as slenderizing. I do not require slenderizing. I require pants that are fitted enough to wear ‘em to work while still letting me breathe free. Big bonus points if they don’t give me a massive wedgie or make me look like I’m going as a Sexay Plumber for Halloween.
I’ve noticed that I’m a tad more neurotic – pinched, if you will – when I’m being squeezed by my clothes. But it’s not just the literal squeeze of recalcitrant flesh. It’s also the emotional squeeze that says our bodies are always shaped wrong no matter how hard we try. The squeeze is harsher on large women, but scarcely a woman escapes its clutches. Today the HuffPo made a fuss about Katie Holmes wearing a sheer shirt over a black bra …
… as if women didn’t routinely bare far more at the beach! I’m down with the bra and shirt, and I think this “article” proves that HuffPo deserves an award for Baseless Titillation. It might be hilarious if it weren’t so routine and mind-meltingly stupid.
There is a problem with Holmes’ outfit, though. While it likely cost her thousands, it still hasn’t stopped putting the squeeze on her. The elastic waist is constricting enough to make even an actress with a presumed personal trainer look, well, lumpy. The ruffles don’t help one bit.
To be clear: I’m not criticizing Holmes (except for her religion and choice of husband, ’nuff said). I’m criticizing a fashion industry that manages to relegate even the richest and thinnest women to a fashion lumpy-proletariat. The logic of the system dictates that it will penalize poorer and larger women far more harshly. But no one gets away scot-free, not even the size twos.
So is tummy control – camouflage – ever okay? Well, I’m not much interested in camouflaging my figure flaws. Nor am I eager to dress my little boys in camo before they have any idea about what military service can mean. But yes, there may be a time and a place for camouflage … it just requires us to love our butts and bellies and, well, chill out. Then again, if you’ve evolved such a zen approach to your body, you’re probably already wearing a perfectly fitted, always stylish fur coat …